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CONVENTION NOTEBOOK: The Flag Lady Leads the Pledge

August 12, 1996

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Mary Eckert says her grandmother always carried a small flag in her purse, in case, ``She ever had an occasion to wave it.″

Now the granddaughter, known as the Flag Lady, has plenty of reason to wave America’s Stars and Stripes at the Republican National Convention.

``I’ve always wanted to do the Pledge of Allegiance at the convention,″ said Mrs. Eckert, who won the chance to lead the national oath over 100 other applicants, according to convention planners.

``She is extremely patriotic,″ said Megan Isenhower, a convention spokeswoman. ``And she has the entrepreneurial spirit the Republican Party strives to embody.″

Mrs. Eckert, who runs The Flag Lady’s Flag Store in Columbus, Ohio, purchased a red, white and blue skirt for the occasion.

Dubbed the ``flag lady″ by a Chicago newspaper in 1979 when she was selling flags out of the trunk of her car during the Iranian hostage crisis, Mrs. Eckert’s application was accompanied by 30 reference letters, including ones from Ohio Gov. George Voinovich, Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine and several members of Ohio’s congressional delegation.

She said her devotion to the flag dates to her childhood.

``I was steeped in patriotism when I was growing up,″ she explained. ``My family taught me never to put anything on top of the Bible and never to let the flag touch the ground.″

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Move over retired Gen. Colin Powell, Presidents Ford and Bush, even former first lady Nancy Reagan. Margaret Kelly is ready for her moment in the spotlight as a speaker on the opening day of the Republican National Convention.

Ms. Kelly, the state auditor in Missouri, is hoping to improve her political stature and help her campaign for governor with brief remarks that she’ll be allowed to give today.

She is one of the lucky little-known politicians among a long list of first-day speakers, including many candidates for governor, senator and congressman.

Ms. Kelly plans to talk about taxes, her biggest issue against Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan. She hopes her speech will ``send a very strong message back to Missouri,″ she said.

Carnahan has led comfortably in polls, despite Republicans’ criticism of him on taxes. At Carnahan’s urging, the 1993 General Assembly approved a $310 million income tax increase to finance education reform.

Kelly already has promised to cut state taxes $500 million.

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As the youngest delegate to the Republican National Convention, 18-year-old Jason Brinton is under a lot of pressure. The Utah resident will take the podium today on behalf of the Young Republicans of America.

``I’ve got two minutes to represent 100,000 young Republicans and I want to say the right thing,″ he said from his Salt Lake City home, just hours after a gruelling 20-hour flight from Africa.

In the three weeks leading up to San Diego, Brinton, who enters Harvard University this fall, was in Kenya with 30 other young volunteers doing humanitarian work.

Despite his GOP stripe, Brinton says he was politically roused by a visit to the Kennedy home in Massachusetts, a decidedly Democratic venue.

``It was inspiring, where Rose Kennedy told her sons that they have to make the most of their potential,″ he said. ``It’s in the Bible, in Luke I think: `To him who much is given, much is required.‴

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